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“You black dog!”
This is what was allegedly yelled at South Sydney Rabbitohs captain and NRL champion Greg Inglis as he left the field in the 34th minute of their clash with the Panthers.
Penrith were trailing 14-0 at the time and many of their fans felt that Inglis may have deliberately stayed down to stop the home side’s momentum in attack.
So they booed the Queenslander-by-way-of-Bowraville as he left the field.
And that’s footy. The crowd is the 18th player. The atmosphere and passion they create is a large part of what makes the game great. The Panthers’ faithful wasn’t right on this occasion – Inglis had copped a heavy head knock and was not foxing for advantage, something I’m not sure he’d do anyway.
I’m here to defend the right of every league crowd to voice their displeasure with foul play, wrong decisions, poor effort, etc etc. If you don’t like that aspect of the game, I suggest you don’t come to the ground. It happens at all of them.
Unfortunately, there was an idiot in the crowd who attached a racial slur to their displeasure, casting disrespect on Inglis’ Indigenous heritage.
What sort of total idiot does that in this day and age? The culprit should be found, named and shamed.
It wasn’t just a crap sentiment in regard to the vilification of Inglis personally – a man who has strode our game like a behemoth for over a decade. It was also stupid because of how much Indigenous Australians mean to rugby league.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been – and continue to be – an ornament to the sport. No other heritage has been so over-represented in regard to their involvement and passion for our game.
Just consider these superb rugby league players:
• Preston Campbell
• Sam Backo
• Arthur Beetson
• Matt Bowen
• Greg Bird
• Larry Corowa
• Laurie Daley (and his cousin, Katrina Fanning)
• Steve Ella
• John Ferguson
• Ron Gibbs
• Justin Hodges
• Cliff Lyons
• Anthony Mundine
• Nathan Merritt
• Ewan McGrady
• David Peachey
• Scott Prince
• Steve Renouf
• Wendell Sailor
• Dale Shearer
• Gorden Tallis
• Timana Tahu
• Ricky Walford
• Rhys Wesser
Imagine how much poorer rugby league would have been without those players.
I don’t want to.
I still wipe tears from my eyes watching vision of Chicka Ferguson diving over for that crucial try in the 1989 grand final. Only Chicka could have scored that. He is one of my idols.
Just try and find a current team list that doesn’t have a great player or two who is of Indigenous heritage. Here is a list off the top of my head:
• Andrew Fifita
• Wade Graham
• Latrell Mitchell
• Blake Ferguson
• Jake Friend
• Johnathan Thurston
• Nathan Peats
• John Sutton
• James Roberts
• Sam Thaiday
• Dane Gagai
• Alex Johnston
• Will Chambers
• Josh Addo-Carr
• Joel Thompson
• Ryan James
• Bevan French
• Corey Norman
• Josh Hoffman
• Jack Wighton
• Aidan Sezer
Some pretty handy players there, I think you’ll agree.
And of course you can add the Panthers’ own Tyrone Peachey to that list, who was sitting on the bench in earshot of that idiot who thought racial vilification was acceptable. Peachey, of course, then went on to score the winning try, much to the rapturous delight of the Penrith fans, who love the lad from Wellington as their own.
Panthers CEO Brian Fletcher released the following statement about the matter:
“Panthers has been made aware of an allegation of racial abuse directed at South Sydney player Greg Inglis by a member of the crowd at Panthers Stadium yesterday. I wish to make it clear our club does not tolerate this kind of behaviour in any form. We will work with the NRL to investigate the matter and any perpetrators will be swiftly dealt with. Our club apologises unreservedly to Greg Inglis for the upset caused by the alleged incident.”
I want to assure any fans that, as a result of this incident, are concerned that Panther Park is a dangerous place which is full of racists that – in my considerable experience of the place – nothing could be further from the truth.
I can virtually assure you that it was a lone idiot.
I’ve been to most of the grounds used in the NRL, both as a spectator and as a broadcaster. I’ve been on the sideline at Panther Park many times. On all those occasions, I have never heard any such abuse leveled at anyone.
What is more, I love going to Panther Park. It is one of my favourite grounds. My experience of the ground is of it being a great place where families come and the atmosphere is great.
I’ve never seen violence or felt threatened there, ever. What’s more, it has always seemed to be a melting pot of Australian society, with people of all races and creeds there in numbers – side by side.
Even on the southern hill, one well-lubricated night, dressed in my lime green – with contentious issues aplenty on-field – I felt completely safe.
That’s something I can’t say of every ground or group of supporters by a long stretch.
So, while it was appalling and the perpetrator should be severely punished, please do not tar the Penrith crowd with the brush of racism because of this isolated incident.
My experience says that would neither be correct nor reasonable.